Last Stand at the Alamo

June 20, 2018 Blog, Interpretation, Technology Comments (0) 42

Are they making a state park in the middle of the city?  With a 130,000 square foot museum, a third larger that the Witte?  Fencing off the San Antonio’s most important public space?

This is the Piazza Navona, one of the world’s great urban spaces.  It sits on the site of the Roman Circus.  There is no need to recreate the circus, or wall it off.  The use of that space by the public connects it back 2000 thousand years and forward another 1000.  It is alive, not covered by glass or shrubs.  Alamo Plaza is our Piazza Navona.  They are almost the same size and scale.

Last year’s Master Plan envisioned glass walls around the Alamo Plaza.  This year’s Interpretive Plan reduces the walls to fences and shrouds them in shrubs, but the goal is the same.  Manage – and likely monetize – the space.  Since both plans have this attribute, the order is clearly coming from the client, not the designer.

No more sneaking in

Public meetings are going on now to take stock of this interpretive plan.  Bottom line?  Every San Antonian has the right to take a selfie in front of the Alamo at 1 A.M.

Or 7 A.M.

We at the San Antonio Conservation Society are circulating a petition focusing on access to the plaza and the buildings that face the Alamo. We have been fighting for these buildings since 2015 when the state bought them, and a year ago, we thought we had won!  Last year’s Master Plan had the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth’s Buildings saved as part of the new museum.  We supported that, along with the restoration of the chapel and Long Barracks, and the regrading of the plaza to create a more uniform space in the courtyard/battlefield.  The City Council approved it.  This one’s different, and not in a good way.

Crockett Building on left, built the year before the Alamo was purchased by the state.

This is still the location of the big ‘ol museum.  For our presentation, they showed keeping the front half of the Crockett Building, which would create an appropriately reverent transition from the courtyard/battlefield to the high-tech wizardry they are promising inside.

But the plan we saw removed the other buildings, including the Woolworth’s on the corner, site of the first voluntary peaceful integration of a lunch counter in the South (March 1960).

You can interpret both the lunch counter and the long-lost west wall of the compound inside the building.  In the shade.  Why is it always either/or?  Designers know better.

The real irony here is that in the name of interpreting history, they suggest removing actual century-old historic buildings in order to replace them with modern versions of long-lost elements, like the wall.  Replacing real history with fake history?  Tossing actual historic fabric in the dumpster for a recreated fantasy?

The other big issue is access.  Last  year the plan closed Alamo Street in front of the Alamo.  Now they are closing part of Houston Street to the north, Crockett Street, and the bit of Alamo between Market and Commerce.  Access is limited to five gates.  The planners are adamant that the Battle of Flowers parade and Fiesta Flambeau can’t parade in front of the Alamo?  Why?  We have a fence around Wulff House and we still let the Granaderos y Damas de Galvez do their living history there once a year.  We take the fence down for a day and then put it back.  That’s not hard.  Why the bloodymindedness?

We okayed closing Alamo Street in front of the chapel a year ago, but now the closures have grown like kudzu and it seems there will be little northerly traffic through the downtown.

Unless they re-open Main Plaza.  Just sayin’.

I still don’t get why no one has proposed restoring the chapel to the way it was during the battle.

In addition to the irony of demolishing actual historical things for reproductions, there is the irony of wanting to get rid of the “tacky” theme park-styled attractions that occupy the Woolworth’s and Palace Buildings, as well as more to the south.  Yet walling off the plaza for heritage reenactment risks turning the whole thing into a kind of theme park like Colonial Williamsburg.

The amount of physical intervention proposed by this interpretive plan is really staggering.  This is the 21st century – you don’t need the sort of physical interventions people were doing in the 1930s (like Colonial Williamsburg).  Or 1960s.  This is NOW.  Augmented reality, programmable to the latest discoveries.  Clean up, regrade and reprogram.  No heavy machinery needed.

Looking at the key point where the March 6, 1836 battle turned – underneath the Post Office. 

Check out my previous blogs on how actual tourists will be experiencing historic sites tomorrow.  Don’t spend millions crafting something that will be silly in five years.  Y’all can’t outdo Piazza Navona.  That takes actual, continuous history, not a recreated circus.

Not the Alamo.  Also not Piazza Navona, but it is a Roman ruin.

 

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People And Places And People

December 6, 2017 History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation Comments (0) 387

This year at PastForward, the National Preservation Conference, the National Trust for Historic Preservation focused on People Saving Places.  “People” is operative, because for many – notably wonky architectural historians like myself – it had often been about buildings. Even for those in the planning profession, it had been a technical question rather than a human one.  That is wrong.

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Evidence and Storytelling

October 26, 2017 Blog, History, Interpretation Comments (0) 534

I wrote a blog inspired by Don Rypkema’s presentation at the Living Heritage Symposium in September.  Here is one inspired by Donna Graves at the same event, who urged the audience to embrace storytelling.  This is why we save places, because of the stories they tell.

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The Construction of Nature

August 19, 2017 History, Interpretation, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (1) 2073

Over the dozen years of this blog I have sprinkled in historical facts about how old certain ideas and institutions are. This is because these things are so fundamental to our way of seeing and interacting with the world that we assume them to be eternal, not a few decades or a couple centuries old.

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A dozen years and counting

August 1, 2017 Historic Districts, House Museums, House Museums, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 481

Twelve years and 502 blogs ago, I began “Time Tells” – my little blog about heritage conservation, architecture, planning, technology and economics.  I have moved three times in those dozen years and now live in San Antonio, one of the pioneering preservation places in the United States.

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Alamo Plaza: Design and Program

April 16, 2017 Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 739

The Alamo Plaza Reimagined team released a video with images of the proposed redesign of Alamo Plaza this week.  The reaction has been a mix of concerns, but most seem focused on the large, vacant plaza surrounded by glass walls.

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Latest Issues in San Antonio

March 10, 2017 History, Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (3) 1458

Things have been busy at the San Antonio Conservation Society, not only because our major fundraiser Night In Old San Antonio® is coming up next month, but because it is Spring already and a host of development and legislative issues are heating up.

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Conservation Forensics

December 18, 2016 Blog, Chicago Buildings, Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (3) 1552

Heritage conservation is forensic – that doesn’t just mean “crime scene,” it means an argument based on evidence. Continue Reading

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Latest news on Alamo Plaza

December 3, 2016 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas Comments (0) 843

The big news this week is the long-awaited release of the Alamo Master plan, following a process that took most of the year.  Actually, the real master plan won’t be done for another six months, but the summary that was released to City Council and civic groups finally takes some clear positions on what the Alamo area will look like in the future. Continue Reading

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